Communities Against COVID-19 and Poverty

Civil Society Responses to COVID-19

Women, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups will not be left behind as new partnerships with civil society organizations are helping them through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The pandemic has worsened the lives of the poor and vulnerable in Asia and the Pacific. It has affected people’s overall health and well-being and has exacerbated inequalities. Through a technical assistance, ADB and partners Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the People’s Republic of China are helping mitigate the impact of the pandemic through community-led activities that directly respond to the needs of the poor.


  • The pandemic has overstretched government services and worsened the lives of the poor in Asia and the Pacific.
  • Recognizing the importance of civil society in designing and implementing effective development solutions, ADB is partnering with Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the People’s Republic of China to help seven countries across Asia and the Pacific create new partnerships with civil society organizations.
  • This project will strengthen community-based activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and provide social protection and economic support to the region’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Expected Results

  • Community-led public health responses to COVID-19 improved in seven countries across Asia and the Pacific
  • Civil society organizations strengthened in relation to delivering to people and communities innovative, targeted COVID-19 programs of support that go beyond the health sector and narrow treatments
  • “Whole of community” programs implemented, to include social protection and assistance to the poor and vulnerable, including the elderly; and livelihood assistance for those who lost jobs and income due to the pandemic

Vulnerabilities Amid the Pandemic

Many urban and rural communities lack basic amenities and awareness that could help them in the fight against COVID-19. Limited access to clean water, for example, or congested communities complicate basic health protocols, such as proper handwashing and physical distancing. Aside from inadequate access to basic services, many individuals also lost their businesses and jobs during the pandemic. Very few have opportunities to regain their livelihoods, especially with economies across the region still at a low point.

The pandemic has also aggravated gender-based inequalities across Asia and the Pacific. Some women and children were exposed not only to heavier workloads at both the work and domestic fronts but also to abuse and violence. Even before the pandemic, studies have shown that more than 37% of women in South Asia, 40% of women in Southeast Asia, and up to 68% of women in the Pacific have experienced physical violence by their partners. The elderly have also been vulnerable during the pandemic. In Asia, where people are rapidly aging, 58% of the population are over 60, and more than half have preexisting conditions.

With government services not always able to reach vulnerable and informal communities, it has become difficult to meet the challenges brought about by the pandemic. Now, more than ever, communities need to rally together to fill in the gaps in service delivery and help ensure that they build forward and better as they recover from the pandemic. Civil society organizations (CSOs), with their vast networks and involvement at the grassroots level, are well-positioned to reach the poorest and most vulnerable in communities. Their contributions enrich ADB partnerships and help deliver better development outcomes.

Creating Partnerships to Combat COVID-19

In 2020, ADB, with cofinancing from the Japan Fund for Prosperous and Resilient Asia and the Pacific (previously Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction), Republic of Korea e-Asia and Knowledge Partnership Fund, and the People’s Republic of China Poverty Reduction and Regional Cooperation Fund, started a technical assistance (TA) project to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 through community-led interventions. Through this TA, ADB is creating new partnerships with CSOs to conduct activities that respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Grassroots efforts and community-led programs deliver impactful results and high value for money. This COVID-19 project leverages the on-the-ground presence and experience of civil society organizations to respond in areas where formal assistance channels may not reach,” said Pinsuda Alexander, economist, ADB. The TA, which began in November 2020, covers seven countries—Armenia, Cambodia, the Cook Islands, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, the Philippines, and Thailand. It supports risk communication campaigns plus contact tracing and reporting systems, helps train community health workers, distributes personal protective equipment, establishes handwashing points, and raises awareness of COVID-19 vaccines. Furthermore, the TA program is working with community members to find alternative livelihoods for work affected by COVID-19. This initiative is currently strengthening the CSOs’ community-based activities that mitigate and prevent COVID-19 spread, provide social protection to the vulnerable, including the elderly, and give economic support to those who lost jobs and livelihood because of the pandemic.

Grassroots efforts and community-led programs deliver impactful results and high value for money. This COVID-19 project leverages the on-the-ground presence and experience of civil society organizations to respond in areas where formal assistance channels may not reach.

– Pinsuda Alexander, ADB economist

Communities Lead the Way Out of the Pandemic

As one example, the TA has been supporting many CSOs on the ground in Mongolia, where a consortium of 26 CSOs led by the Mongolian Remote Sensing Society (MRSS) partnered with the government to spearhead a continuum of activities preventing COVID-19 transmission, training community health workers, and providing economic support to communities. The consortium set up workgroups in targeted areas that focused on three distinct activities: prevention and mitigation, social protection, and livelihood support.

For prevention and mitigation, the consortium has produced a prevention communications campaign featuring short videos urging people to vaccinate, as well as posters, infographics, and stickers informing people of health protocols. The consortium also set up hand sanitation points at strategic locations and distributed sanitation packages to complement the campaign.

For social protection, the consortium provided basic needs support to vulnerable groups, such as elderly people in rural areas, while providing food assistance to those who could not work.

The MRSS consortium also provided training and business support for affected communities on vegetable planting, greenhouse construction, chicken farming, and beekeeping as alternative livelihoods to help those who lost jobs and livelihoods during the pandemic. The project produced roughly 4,000 training handbooks on vegetable planting and greenhouse construction and maintenance. These were distributed, along with 14 types of vegetable seeds. Shop owners and small businesses were provided with laptops, smartphones, and modems to help them around COVID-19 restrictions by shifting to online commerce. All these forms of assistance were based on a survey the consortium conducted to determine the real issues and needs of the communities.

The TA is also supporting another nongovernment organization (NGO) in Mongolia, Good Neighbors. With ADB’s support, Good Neighbors is helping vulnerable groups such as women and the poor in the ger area—settlements of low- and middle-income households. As a first step to addressing the impact of COVID-19, the group trained 50 community health workers to strengthen informal health systems and enhance people’s basic hygiene capacity. They prioritized women as COVID-19 severely affected their livelihood and domestic work. The health workers provided girls with knowledge and kits on personal hygiene. So far, about 5,000 girls and women have attended the training, while about 2,000 girls were provided with personal hygiene packages. Recognizing that COVID-19 economic disruptions placed great stress on families, Good Neighbors also rolled out a family development program for 2,000 families to increase awareness of gender-based violence and form family-based groups for stronger safety nets within the community. They installed a hotline to provide women and girls with easy access to help in times of distress. The NGO also provides vocational and education training to community members, half of whom are women, to help those who lost their jobs during the pandemic regain their incomes.

More initiatives on the ground are expected as other CSOs progress in their activities, and the TA continues through to 2023.

Project Details

Regional: Mitigating the Impact of COVID-19 through Community-Led Interventions


$4.5 million

  • ADB Resources (Regional Cooperation and Integration Fund) $730,000
Cofinancing Partners
  • Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (Technical Assistance) $2 million
  • Republic of Korea e-Asia and Knowledge Partnership Fund (Technical Assistance) $750,000
  • People’s Republic of China Poverty Reduction and Regional Cooperation Fund (Technical Assistance) $1 million


Approval Date 16 November 2020

Signing Date 16 November 2020

Completion Date 30 November 2023

Knowledge Contributor

Pinsuda Alexander, Economist, ADB